If we were to take one 32in TV home this year, then for now it would be the Panasonic TX-L32E6B.
A smart-looking TV with its silver metal stand and narrow bezel, this LED-backlit LCD screen delivers 32 inches of stunning picture quality for a very competitive £400.
MORE: Awards 2013
Panasonic TX-L32E6B: picture
The Panasonic TX-L32E6B delivers a punchy, exciting picture quality that’s full of fine detail, natural colours and smooth motion.
Contrast levels are its strongest point: blacks are inky deep without sacrificing detail, while whites glow bright and punchy. The Freeview HD tuner is excellent, with pin-sharp pictures that have an expertly judged colour palette – it’s the best screen at rendering skin tones naturally, with none of the tint bias that is present on rivals such as the Sony KDL-32W653A.
While its high-definition quality blew us away, it isn’t quite as competent with a standard-definition picture: others offer a hint more subtlety in the blacks when playing DVDs.
But the subtlety in high-def content is fantastic. Play The Dark Knight on Blu-ray and you’ll be able to distinguish the textures and edges of objects even in the dark alleys of Gotham.
And the glowing lights and fires have enough subtlety that you can almost feel the heat of the blaze. Meanwhile, the lush reds, bright yellows and steel greys on Dredd pop without looking overcooked – it’s a captivating picture.
While these same strengths carry over on to standard-def broadcasts and DVDs, it’s not quite as a good a scaler as some. The TX-L32E6B’s black levels aren’t as punchy and deep when confronted with the Victorian gloom of Sherlock Holmes on DVD, although it doesn’t compromise on subtlety elsewhere.
More after the break
Panasonic TX-L32E6B: sound
The flipside to the TX-L32E6B’s excellent picture is its thin sound. While it isn’t entirely uncomfortable, that bright edge is a far cry from the weightier and smoother tones of the solid-sounding Sony KDL-32W653A.
Switching to a different sound mode doesn’t improve the quality. We tried the ‘Music’ setting, and while it added oomph we preferred the cohesion and balance ‘Standard’. We would highly recommend investing in a soundbar, a set of speakers, or a Blu-ray-in-a-box system such as the Sony BDV-N590 (£350) to get sound that matches such a good picture.
The Panasonic Smart TV platform, called My Home Screen, is one of the better-designed smart TV portals/home menu interfaces we’ve seen all year. It’s an incredibly friendly interface, and we love the ability to customise each home page to display our favourite apps and live widgets alongside the live TV feed.
There’s a good collection of streaming apps: the now-obligatory BBC iPlayer and YouTube, video-on-demand service Netflix, and the internet radio service Aupeo!. Facebook, Twitter, Skype (camera sold separately) and a web browser round-up the Panasonic’s internet features.
Panasonic’s interface is laid out so neatly and logically. It’s very easy to get along with it from the start, even if it may not be the most eye-catching of designs. Samsung’s Smart Hub might be more stylish, and Sony’s more attractively minimalist, but the Panasonic’s practical and customisable layout wins in the end.
The supplied remote control is equally practical (if slightly long), and we had no problem using it. However, if you do find it a bit clunky to use, try Panasonic’s Viera Remote 2 app for smartphones and tablets instead – it’s one of the more organised and responsive apps we’ve used.
There are controls for nearly every TV function, from basic volume and channel changing to accessing the settings, smart apps and various connected media. What makes it stand out, though, is the Swipe & Share feature, which lets you share music, photos and videos from your smart device to the TV with just a swipe of the finger.
It’s simple and effective, and not as fiddly to use as other apps. On the downside, it doesn’t offer a programme guide.
Panasonic TX-L32E6B: connectivity
Panasonic offers a good range of connections, with three HDMI inputs available alongside a digital optical output, and component, composite and scart inputs.
You can use the two USB ports for recording programmes and playing stored images, music and videos from a flash drive. You can also stream content wirelessly over your home network – Panasonic offers both wired ethernet and built-in wi-fi – from DLNA-compatible devices such as a smartphone, tablet, laptop or NAS box.
File support is pretty thorough on the TX-L32E6B – you can stream music files stored in a variety of formats, including FLAC, WAV, AAC and MP3.
Panasonic TX-L32E6B: verdict
We have to reiterate that £400 price tag (or less if you shop around). The Panasonic TX-L32E6B offers all the bells and whistles of a smart TV and its excellent screen, for a more affordable price than its rivals.
It isn’t perfect in all areas – sound quality is its lowest point – but what it does deliver is the most complete, all-round 32in TV picture we’ve seen in ages. It’s easy to use, has a good selection of smart and streaming features, and most important of all – a stunning screen that’s head and shoulders above the competition.
MORE: Best TVs 2014